- "But, rest assured, we will tolerate no guerrillas in the casinos or the swimming pools."
- ―Fulgencio Batista[src]
Fulgencio Batista was the dictator of Cuba in the 1950s.
Batista's corrupt and repressive regime systematically profited from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests, by negotiating lucrative relationships with the American Mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution rackets in Havana, and with large multinational American corporations that had invested considerable amounts of money into Cuba.
Relationship with organized crime
Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, notably with American mobsters Hyman Roth, Carlo Tramonti, Santo Virgilio and Michael Corleone. Batista and Roth formed a friendship and business relationship that flourished for a decade.
Batista encouraged large-scale gambling in Havana, announcing in 1955 that Cuba would grant a gaming license to anyone who invested US$1 million in a hotel or $200,000 in a new nightclub – and that the government would provide matching public funds for construction, a 10-year exemption from taxes, and impose no duties on imports of equipment and furnishings for new hotels. From each casino the government was to receive $250,000 for the license (or $50,000 for a nightclub permit) and a percentage of the profits. Unlike the United States, which had stringent moral standards and extensive background investigations for anyone making application for a casino license, Cuba had no such requirements. This opened the door for casino investors with illicit funds. Cronyism was common, where construction companies were awarded contracts to build new nightclubs, hotels, or casinos on the basis of connections as opposed to making a winning bid. Construction fraud was also rampant, where Cuban contractors would request more building materials than they actually needed, then sell the surplus and pocket the cash. Some believe that additional "under the table" fees were required to obtain the casino license, but such beliefs have remained unproven rumors.
Unlike some second-rate crime families who resorted to cheating to turn a profit in gambling, there was no need for dirty tricks in Cuba. A combination of skilled pit bosses and seasoned casino managers (many of whom had worked for the mob bosses in Las Vegas or Reno and were reassigned to Havana) and a reputation as a high-class resort assured the house of winning. Havana proved very profitable for gambling along with its photogenic vacation spots and affordable resorts, and became known as "Latin Las Vegas".
Roth became a prominent figure in Cuba's gambling operations, and exerted influence over Batista's casino policies. As the new hotels, nightclubs, and casinos opened Batista wasted no time collecting his share of the profits. Roth was said to have personally contributed millions of dollars per year to Batista's Swiss bank accounts.
At a meeting where Michael Corleone was present, UTT Corporation presented Batista with a gold plated telephone in gratitude for acting upon a recommendation of the U.S. government, who had been urging Batista to lift price controls on Cuba's telephone exchanges, which severely limited the ability of Cuban telephone operators to place international calls due to lack of revenue. This helped to facilitate communications between Cuba and the United States, as well as national calls among Cubans, and phone bills better reflected the cost of service. Quality of telecommunications increased in Cuba, and issues such as dropped calls decreased as did complaints of static and other issues that made previous communications inaudible. However, many ordinary Cubans saw increases in their phone subscription fees.
In 1959, Batista's regime was fighting against the guerrilla forces of Fidel Castro. A couple of hours into the New Year's party, Batista gets bad news from a military aide. On what is to be his final political speech, Batista makes an announcement that the rebels have seized the cities of Santiago and Guantanamo, and are now making their way to Havana. Batista declares his resignation, then promptly flees Cuba, which cripples Hyman Roth's power structure. It also causes the businesses to lose everything they have invested in Cuba, as well as the Mafia families to lose a bundle (in particular their Cuban casinos). There were various CIA funded attempts to return him to power, notably through the assassination of Castro by Carmine Marino, but they all failed.
Behind the scenes
He is mentioned in the novelization, where the Corleones attempting to protect him during a 1955 attempt on his life by the communists, which fails as the killers gloat over the dead president. Batista is then told of this and expresses regret that a "fine man in his service" is now dead, revealing the communists had killed a body double.
In actuality, Batista did have a gold telephone. As in the film, it was presented to him out of gratitude for abolishing price controls. However, it was a gift from Atlantic Telegraph & Telephone, b.k.a. AT&T. The "UTT" mentioned in the film is fictional, and was likely made up to avoid either copyright violations or forthcoming calumny accusations from AT&T. Following the Cuban Revolution, Batista's palace was renamed a museum to the Cuban Revolution. The actual gold telephone is still there today as part of the exhibits.
|President of Cuba|